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Preston band tell folk about folk

Posted on - 16th November, 2012 - 12:46pm | Author - | Posted in - Arts, Music, Preston Guild

Paving the way for a folk revival in Preston are Susie Jones and the Tender Footin’ Band. We caught up with them and recorded a special acoustic session.

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Folk is a very social tradition; songs have been passed down generations through clubs and festivals, increasing in popularity in times mass social change. Traditions are particularly strong in Lancashire. There was an Industrial Revolution folk boom, and now an entirely new revolution – the digital one – is changing the ways folk is listened to.

Preston’s Susie Jones and The Tender Footin’ Band are working hard to ensure that live folk traditions and songs remain active in the city. They have been reworking traditional Lancashire songs with the aim of introducing them to new audiences and were even commissioned to write music for Preston Guild.

The band meet for tea and a jam in the cosy, stove warmed home of Susie (vocals/guitar) and Rob Kentell’s (mandolin/guitar) home each week. It’s a casual arrangement, with members ducking in and out. Only Susie and Rob have been there from the beginning. Rob explains that a consistent line up may hinder the songs and wouldn’t be fair on songwriter Susie.

The pair are currently backed by Dave Ashton on guitar and Dave Parker on bass. Rob met them both through work and set up the Tender Footin’ Band as a side project, initially for a joke. “We played a Sainsbury’s talent show” Rob explains. “All the other competitors just sang, but we took instruments. None of the audience knew what a guitar slide was, they were just staring saying ‘what’s that?’ so we were clearly not going to win”.

The trio carried on jamming at Rob and Susie’s home before combining efforts with Susie. Ashton laughs, “9 times out of 10 we’d be practising in one room and Susie would be joining in from another. It made sense for us for us all to work together!”

Earlier this year, the four set to work learning and recording a set of traditional Lancashire folk songs.

Susie explains, “The idea was to modernise them. We picked songs we knew people would be able to connect to, songs of human nature, even though they’re from a different time. They are a little more jazz-like.”

Rob continues, “We’ve heard bands re-interpret folk songs from different areas – such as what The Unthanks have done with Northumbrian folk – and realised that this hasn’t really been done in Lancashire.”

The songs were recorded with help from Denis Wane, bass player from Trouble At Mill, the band whom organise Gregson Lane’s popular folk night. The Lancashire recordings are due to be released in the new year.

Susie crafted a Lancashire song herself when she was approached to write music for Preston Guild. Sing The Docks was a highlight of both this year’s Riversway Festival and Guild Celebrations in Avenham Park, with a band and choir of 400 volunteers performing new songs about Preston’s history. Susie and Rob contributed a song about the heyday of Preston Docks, painting a vivid picture of ships full of cotton, timber and clay being unloaded by dockland workers.

Susie and Rob were pleased that they were involved, but disappointed they didn’t manage to get a recording with the full choir.

“We’ll make an effort to record a version, but it won’t be the same,” says Rob. He laughs, “There were some big strong male voices and that’s what we’d be lacking. We need some big men!”

Susie was touched that so many people sang her song, and is hopeful it will become a folk song in the most traditional sense by being passed on by the choir.

She explains “One of the best things to come from Sing The Docks, is that we bumped into a singer from the choir who had gone to a folk club and sang it solo, which is amazing! Felt like it became a Preston folk song in its own right”.

The band also featured prominently in one of the Preston Guild processions, representing Gregson Lane folk club by playing music on their parade float.

As well as representing other folk clubs, Susie has started her own, with the aim of introducing songwriters to other musicians. Her Songwriters Circle sessions occur monthly at the Moorbrook Inn in Preston.

“It differs from open mics as we encourage people to come play their original songs in a safe environment,” she says, “Jamming is encouraged as a rule, so it’s a great opportunity to hear what your songs sound like with other musicians.  It’s very social.”

Susie and her band’s actions prove that they are not only passionate about playing folk, but also about keeping the scene alive and introducing it to new audiences. With any luck, their hard work will not only accomplish this, but make them part of Lancashire’s folk history themselves.

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